May 5, 2019
Jason Meyer (North Campus) | (Downtown Campus) | (South Campus) | | Galatians 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.—Galatians 3:28
You will notice that I am not preaching from the Gospel of Mark today. Why? We have come to an important moment in our church that I want to address directly. We have been in a season leaning in and listening to what it is like to be a woman or an ethnic minority at Bethlehem. It is important to ask that question because the leaders of the church are male and are predominantly majority culture, and we want to know more so that we can love better. Over the last four months the Lord has shone a spotlight on two issues that need to be addressed: ethnic harmony and gender complementarity.
Ethnic harmony means that God has made each ethnicity and he is not glorified when we minimize ethnic differences in an attempt to become “color blind.” Ethnic harmony believes that God has given each ethnicity a distinct instrument to play and he is glorified when they play together like a redeemed symphony of harmony under the Lordship of Christ the conductor.
Gender complementarity is similar in that God has made two distinct genders: male and female. God is not glorified when we confuse those genders or try to minimize the differences between them in an attempt to make them the same. God is glorified when those two genders do not compete, but are complementary. Men and women are better together as brothers and sisters carrying out the Great Commission.
You need to understand what is driving this. I will tell you what it is not. It is not Marxism or Cultural Marxism, or neo-Marxism, or Critical Race theory or Identity politics, or Feminist hermeneutics. We reject those things. Jesus is driving this. Ethnic Harmony and Gender complementarity are not the mission of the church: They are means to the mission. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. And how can gender complementarity not be part of the “all things” of our mission statement? How can ethnic harmony not be part of the “all peoples”?
And I want to let you know about what is happening. As we have been listening and moving forward in this conversation, some courageous people have come along who have said, “You say this, but we don’t see it.” For example, you talk about ethnic harmony and that you value diversity in leadership—help us understand why we don’t see it. You have been talking about it so long, and we don’t see it, so what is the disconnect?
So, we actually put a six-month pause—a time out—on our elder and deacon process. This has been painful because we need help. We are looking at our process and our church and wanting to take steps forward. What is driving this process is not identity politics or any political agenda. It is Jesus. In fact, one text in particular is driving this agenda of ethnic harmony and gender complementarity: Galatians 3:28.
This text has two components: diversity and unity.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female.—Galatians 3:28a
Notice the three differences that Paul identifies in this text.
The ethnic hostility that existed between Jews and Gentiles was the most explosive issue in the early church. There was a division and it was built into the very fabric of worship: Gentiles could only go so far in approaching God. They were restricted from going farther than the court of the Gentiles. Jewish women could go a little farther. Jewish men could go farther yet. Priests could go farther, and the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement.
2. Slave nor Free
Paul also identifies the most defining socio-economic difference of his day. The two polarities would be slave and free. The difference between a slave and a free man would constitute the greatest social and economic disparity. Slavery in the ancient world was a common practice, but it was not the same as the race-based slavery we see in the United States.
3. Male and Female
Consider the unique vocabulary here. Rather than the regular words for male and female, Paul uses words that take us back to the creation account of Genesis 1–2. There is also a change of construction with the conjunction. The first two are “neither, nor,” but the third pair has the conjunction “and.” Why? That conjunction also comes from the creation account in Genesis 1:27.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.
These differences were definite sources of division in the ancient world. When those differences became decisive, they became divisive. But something cataclysmic happened in Christ. Jesus died and the temple veil tore in two from top to bottom. All the children of God now have equal access to God—no matter what ethnicity, class, or gender. We sometimes call this the priesthood of all believers. You do not need a priest to approach God. The Bible says that he made us a kingdom of priests (Revelation 1:6, 5:10). The work of Christ has brought a new creation in which there is unity in diversity.
For you are all one in Christ Jesus.—Galatians 3:28b
Christ has ushered in the dawning of a new creation. The fundamental structures of the world with all of its defining distinctives have been recast in Christ. These differences still exist, but they are no longer decisive. None of these differences can rise above Christ as the defining factor. We need to not only feel the evil of divisiveness, but the beauty of unity. Christ gets glory when every high thing that is raised above Christ must come down. Now that Christ has come, the old divisions must go.
That is why we cannot allow the differences to rise above Christ and contend with him for the supremacy that he deserves alone in his church. When these distinctions are decisive, there is disunity. Disunity in the face of these differences is a failure to believe the gospel. That is why Paul confronted Peter earlier in Galatians 2. Peter pulled away from the Gentiles, and Paul essentially said you are going back to the old divisions. You are not telling the truth about the gospel when you pull away from the Gentiles (Galatians 2:14).
The coming of Christ has created one fundamental, defining distinction: people are forgiven or unforgiven and children of wrath or children of God. They are walking either on the narrow road to life or the broad road to destruction. The defining divide for humanity is whether one is in Christ or not.
Look at the context with me and we will see the dominant theme of the ultimate importance of being in Christ.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.—Galatians 3:25–28
The clear theme is the importance of being “in Christ.” Unity was a gospel issue because disunity was a denial of the gospel. The gospel was the proclamation of the elimination of all of the old divisions. The gospel heralded that the old divisions do not belong in the church for those who belong to Christ. How did this new reality get expressed in baptism? I love this quote.
As we noted, the belief in oneness in the first century church was proclaimed when people joined the church. When individuals were baptized into the church they were informed that in Christ there were no divisions based on race, class, or gender (Galatians 3:28). Every time there was a baptism, the congregants also reaffirmed this baptismal vow.
We make much of Christ when Galatians 3:28 is not a slogan or a cliché! We cannot merely talk about this as easy rhetoric—it must become an embodied reality woven into the fabric of our lives together.
Therefore, ethnic differences and class differences and gender differences cannot divide those who belong to Christ. The church is to be a place where every ethnicity flourishes, equal in God’s sight and equally valued here in the family. The church is a place where everyone can flourish no matter the social or economic class. The church is to be a place where men and women flourish together as spiritual equals—fellow heirs, brother and sister—not just that they know it, but they feel it. Therefore, we are not a healthy church and are not keeping in step with the gospel if only one ethnicity flourishes, or one class flourishes, or one gender flourishes.
But we are not just talking about the old divisions—there are new divisions in our day as well. I am not just talking about social and economic: rich/poor, urban/suburban, white collar or blue collar, but also political: Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Independent. None of those things can rise above Christ as defining this body.
The political divide is one of my biggest concerns for us as a church. I have never seen politics be so divisive and definitive—an allegiance issue. Where you stand on the Trump presidency cannot be decisive—it is not a test of fellowship. Can we be a place where some celebrate it and others lament it? Political allegiance is not a discipleship strategy of our church. We cannot let Fox News or CNN be our disciplers. Do not confuse or conflate Cable News with the Good News. Our allegiance is not the Elephant or the Donkey, but to the Lamb. Christ is all and in all.
We recognize that the kingdom of Christ is so decisive it creates a fundamental distinction from the world’s categories. There will always be aspects of culture that we affirm because they align with truth, and there will always be aspects of culture that we reject because they reject the truth.
Kingdom Culture and the Cultures of Earth 
The kingdom of God is a supra-culture that rules and reigns over all earthly cultures. Christ as King defines kingdom culture in the Bible. Scripture is the royal scepter by which King Jesus rules over his church. This kingdom culture is often expressed in terms of kingdom values: Outdo one another in showing honor, seek the interests of others, humble yourselves by casting all your cares on Christ, etc.
What is the relationship between Kingdom culture and the cultures of earth? These cultures will have beliefs and practices that align with Scripture as well as beliefs and practices that are opposed by Scripture. Rod Takata gave an excellent example from Japanese culture. That culture has a high regard for respecting your elders. That value aligns with Kingdom values of respecting your elders. But that value can be taken to an idolatrous and disastrous direction of ancestor worship. The Bible confronts that ungodly value with the meta-value of the Bible: Worship God!
The Church as a Minority Culture
The children of God in this country also know that they are in many respects a minority culture. Kingdom values do not often align well with the values of the present evil age. We will be more and more maligned and marginalized as Christians. Christians must own their identity as aliens and strangers and immigrants. We are looking for the city whose builder and maker is God. Our citizenship is in heaven.
This week I participated in a trip whose aim was to come to grips with some of our nation’s history of hate. Forty pastors and leaders (four from Bethlehem) traveled to Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, Alabama; to Jackson, Mississippi; and Memphis, Tennessee. We walked up the entrance from the dock where the slaves would come into America and be auctioned off at the town center. We saw the unthinkable history of lynching at the new lynching museum. We walked across the bridge at Selma that marked such a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. We went to the Lorraine Motel and saw the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
We reached the end of the journey and got into a circle to process what we had seen. We were told to use three emotion words and we did not get to comment on them. I had to go first. I chose “lamenting, inspiring, and hopeful.” Everyone shared their three words and then they let us comment on one of those words. I wanted to go first and lament because I was already weeping. But I had to go last. And God told me to speak hope. I thought of the hole we saw in the head of Emmett Till from a shotgun blast and thought how can I speak hope?
God Is Not Done
Then I remembered when US Bank Stadium used to be a big hole in the ground. The US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl in 2018. Construction for the venue was completed in 2016. It was fascinating to watch the progress of the building throughout its assembly.
I used to drive by the stadium every week to see the progress. I couldn’t believe how big of a hole they had to dig before they could start building. As the structure began to take shape little by little, it was hard to imagine what it would even look like. Back when it was just a hole in the ground, one of my colleagues at church asked our congregation how they liked the new stadium. It was meant to be a joke because, at that particular moment in time, one would question the architect’s design expertise—if that was the way the building was supposed to look. Everyone laughed because they knew that they couldn’t judge how the stadium looked before the building process was finished.
In the same way, God is not done. That is our story. We see this same point time and time again as we read the Bible. God wasn’t done when Joseph was in prison, when Jeremiah was in the pit, or when Jonah was in the fish. He wasn’t done when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace, or when Daniel was cast into the lion’s den. He wasn’t done when Pharaoh was oppressing the Israelites, when Haman was plotting against Mordecai, when Herod was killing infants, or when Saul was persecuting Christians. He wasn’t done when Sarah’s womb was barren, when Ruth was a widow, or when the Virgin Mary was told she would bear a son. He was not done when Naaman had leprosy, when Bartimaeus was blind, or when Lazarus was dead. He was not done when Noah built an ark, when Aaron made a golden calf, or when David took a census. He was not done when Goliath taunted the armies of Israel, when Jezebel killed the prophets of Israel, or when the Babylonians destroyed the temple of Israel.
And do not forget that he was not done when Jesus was rejected by his hometown, betrayed by Judas, deserted by his disciples, denied by Peter, tried by the Sanhedrin, condemned by Pilate, and mocked by the soldiers. He had holes in his head and hands and feet. He was crucified, died, and was buried in the tomb.
He wasn’t done during the trans-Atlantic Slave trade, he wasn’t done during Jim Crow, he wasn’t done when Emmett Till was brutalized and the Court found his killers not guilty and said at the trial that God will judge you if you don’t find these two individuals not guilty. Satan’s lies have an expiration date. Hate and fear-filled division will one day all be erased and perfect love will reign in its place. Christ will have the prize for which he died: a blood-bought, glorified and unified multi-ethnic bride. And all the evils we face and the groanings of all creation will be no more. You may look at the world and say it is so broken that I don’t know how it will ever be fixed, but look again and realize that it is nothing that a good resurrection can’t fix.
Communion helps us with this reality of unity. The world talks about having a place at the table. Christians declare that in Christ everyone has a place at the table no matter what ethnicity or class or gender. Everyone has a place at the Table because of what is on the Table. Jesus alone is our unity.
 United by Faith, p. 158
 Elder Rod Takata closed our meeting on April 7, 2019 with this observation. It landed on all of us as a word fitly spoken like “apples of gold in settings of silver” (Prov. 25:11).